Tut Underwood

Reporter, Producer

Tut Underwood is producer of  South Carolina Focus, a weekly news feature. A native of Alabama, Tut graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communication.  He worked in radio in his hometown before moving to Columbia where he received a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of South Carolina, and worked for local radio while pursuing his degree.  He also worked in television. He was employed as a public information specialist for USC, and became Director of Public Information and Marketing for the South Carolina State Museum. His hobbies include reading, listening to music in a variety of styles and collecting movies and old time radio programs.

Ways to Connect

Arthur Erskine of West Columbia and friend.
Lauren Rivers

Most men don’t frequent beauty parlors, but Arthur “Cotton” Erskine of West Columbia visits his every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas to prepare his hair and long beard for a role he’s portrayed for years: Santa Claus.  “Santa Cotton,” as he is known, becomes the Jolly Old Elf for events such as Christmas parades, private photo sessions and store appearances, sometimes with as many as six appointments a day.  He is “Ho Ho” to his grandchildren, and here he discusses the fun of  dealing with children, and the unusual requests they sometimes have of Santa.  Erskine’s hairdresser and the co

Holiday depression is a real phenomenon for some South Carolinians.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Cries of “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy New Year” can ring hollow for those afflicted with the phenomenon known as holiday depression.  Psychologist Fred Medway says holidays are so charged with memories that if one experiences, for example, a loss or other unhappy event during the holiday season, it can trigger sad memories in future seasons.   According to University of South Carolina nursing professor Sue Heiney, symptoms of holiday depression can include sleeplessness, change in appetite, sadness and not being able to enjoy anything, even things a person once took pleasu

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia burning in the foreground. Smoke rolling out amidships shows where the most extensive damage occurred. Note the two men in the superstructure.
Library of Congress/U.S. Navy, Office of Public Relations, Washington.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 brought the United States into World War II.  The Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, was blamed for the defeat, demoted for dereliction of duty and forced into retirement, along with his army counterpart, Gen. Walter Short.  In 1944, the first of 10 investigations and hearings into the Pearl Harbor defeat effectively exonerated Kimmel, but his rank was not restored because the war was on.   

The world's hottest pepper- the Carolina Reaper, grown in Fort Mill.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Many people distinguish themselves in the worlds of sports, entertainment, writing and other endeavors.  Ed Currie of Fort Mill has distinguished himself in a much hotter manner:  he holds the Guinness world record for the hottest pepper on earth, his self-developed Carolina Reaper.  He grows many varieties of peppers for the food industry, but it’s the Reaper that makes some hot-sauce aficionados rethink how tough they are.  In addition to setting people’s insides on fire, however, Currie says the pepper has other uses in the paint, medical and defense industries.

A roller derby match pits the Columbia Quade Squad All Stars against a team visiting from Tampa.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

  Half party, half combat. That’s roller derby, a growing sport in South Carolina. Though most teams are women, there are some men’s teams and even juniors teams. In this report we talk to Dell Corley, coach of the Richland County Regulators, as well as two married players. Kelly Wuest of the Columbia Quad Squad All Stars, inspired her husband Mike to join the Carolina Wreckingballs when he saw how much fun she was having. All three, however, say a more important part of the sport than winning is the family-like relationship that links the players.

Each of these silver spoons has a story to tell, and Dawn Corley knows them all.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Dawn Corley of Charleston began collecting silver as a child under the tutelage of her great aunt.  As her collection grew, so did her expertise, until SCETV’s Beryl Dakers dubbed her the “Charleston Silver Lady,” a nickname which has stuck over the years.  Corley has presented programs on silver for U.S.

These Narragansett turkeys are raised by University of South Carolina professor Joe Jones.  Though he keeps his flock small, the quality of the meat is far superior to mass produced turkeys.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

From 9 to 5, Joe Jones of Blythewood is a professor of marine science and environmental science at the University of South Carolina.  After 5, he becomes a farmer, raising sheep, pigs, chickens, and especially Narragansett turkeys, which makes him popular around Thanksgiving.   He and his wife keep their flock small, preferring quality over quantity.  Jones and his wife Amanda talk in this story about the difference between homegrown birds and the corporate, mass-produced turkeys most people consume (hint: price and flavor have a lot to do with the difference).  There are challenges to rais

  Many people are fearful of a Zika virus epidemic because of the publicity the virus has received.  But South Carolina law enforcement officers are fighting a much-less-publicized epidemic – the growth of heroin addiction.  This problem, however, is largely rampant among middle class users, according to Frank Shaheen, director of the Recovering Professional Program.  

Counselors from Carolina United have worked  with thousands of flood victims in the past year, including this one in Eastover, S.C.
Courtesy Carolina United, SC Dept. of Mental Health

More than a year after South Carolina’s historic flood, crisis counselors from the state Department of Mental Health’s Carolina United program continue to find and help flood victims.  But hearing the woes of thousands of victims over a long period can have detrimental effects on the counselors as well, sometimes producing stress or depression. 

Poster for "Eight Days a Week."
Apple Corps

The recent Ron Howard documentary film “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years” highlights the cultural phenomenon of Beatlemania in the 1960s.  The movie captures America’s excitement as John, Paul, George and Ringo stormed the country at the forefront of the most popular musical revolution of the century, the British Invasion.   

As society becomes more dependent on technology, from smart phones to driver-less cars, the need for security has grown, and not just for financial institutions. The University of South Carolina and Gov. Nikki Haley recently announced the formation of SC Cyber, a coalition of educators, industry and government designed to protect information and anticipate the problems posed by new uses of technology.

Watchmaker Todd Waites works with tiny parts to get big results in repairing watches at Wristwatch Doc in  Cayce, SC, near Columbia.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

With competition from cell phones and an attitude of replace-not-repair toward many items, watch repair has become a rarer trade.  There are now fewer watchmakers (or repairers, to us general public types) in the United States than ever before.  Cayce watchmaker John Gawronski says that makes for a greater demand, and his staff is always busy.  He is sought out because not only does he have the skill, but also millions of rare watch parts gathered by buying out retiring watchmakers or jewelers.  There are opportunities for younger watchmakers if they’re willing to work, says Gawronski, and

File Photo
warrenksi/Flickr

South Carolina’s voting machines were purchased in 2004.  For electronics, that’s old.  Computer technology advances quickly and needs replacing frequently.  Nevertheless, S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire and USC Computer Science Professor Duncan Buell believe that with caution, the state’s machines may get through this fall’s election with few problems. 

Not leaving a will is considered the biggest "sin" of estate planning.  Even an online form, not the best of ideas, is better than no will at all.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Perhaps as much as 50 to 60 percent of South Carolinians do not have will.  According to attorney Bert Brannon, a will is a person’s last chance to say what he or she wants to happen to his/her possessions, so it should be taken seriously.  Brannon and Richland County Probate Judge Amy McCullough name some reasons why people put off making a will, and why not leaving a will is a really bad idea.  While It has no effect on the deceased at all, it can cause untold distress and trouble for those left behind.

The dam (foreground) of Lexington's Old Mill Pond gave way during the flood of October 2015, leaving an empty pond behind it and destruction in front.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Broken dams across the state made last year’s historic floods in South Carolina even worse.  In Lexington, three dams burst, washing debris through the city and flooding U.S. Highway 1.  The city is now seeking to reconstruct the old dams to be more resilient. Tut Underwood has the story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Richard Rothwell, via Wikimedia Commons

“Frankenstein” is a classic of fiction, movies, and other media, and also a Halloween staple. The novel has not been out of print in the two centuries since it was published in 1818. USC English Professor Paula Feldman, an authority on the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of “Frankenstein,” talks about the real- life tragedies in Shelley’s life that caused her to wish she could bring the dead to life again, and the dreams that inspired the writing of the classic book that is regarded as the first science fiction novel.

These ladies have the responsibility of judging baked goods at the South Carolina State Fair, and they take their work seriously.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Eating cupcakes, pies, cakes, and cookies is a pleasure for most folks, but for judges at the South Carolina State Fair, it’s also a responsibility.  Judges Laurie Aker and Mae Wells say because baking contestants work hard to prepare their entries, they should also be diligent in evaluating each entry to get the fairest (no pun intended) and most accurate result in determining winners.  Here they give their criteria for judging food, and for a judge’s qualifications.      Aker lists some common mistakes made by some cooks, and judge supervisor Brenda Turner tells what impresses her in a ba

Author Pat Conroy in 2013, talking with students about their entries in USC’s annual high school writing contest.
Courtesy Aida Rogers, USC Honors College.

The University of South Carolina’s honors college sponsors a writing contest each year to encourage students to write, and to get readers for these talented young people, according to college Dean Steve Lynn, who originated the program.  The incentives to enter are several.  Not only does it award cash prizes, but the best writings are gathered together each year in a book published by USC Press to give permanent exposure to young writers.   In addition, the judges are high-profile, nationally known writers. 

West Columbia's Elizabeth Gray is running marathons in all 50 states to call attention to the problem of domestic violence.   Her story has made her a finalist for the cover of Running World magazine.
Courtesy of Elizabeth Gray

Elizabeth Gray of West Columbia is a former Marine, but that didn’t protect her from domestic violence at home.  But as she escaped an abusive marriage, she discovered running, and as she crossed the finish line of her first marathon, she decided to use her running to call attention to the problem of domestic violence.  To that end, she has set a goal of running a marathon in all 50 states, and will be halfway to her goal by December.  Her efforts may gain her additional attention, as her compelling story has made her a finalist in a competition to be featured on the cover of Running World

Flooding in Forest Acres, near Columbia, SC, on Oct 4, 2015.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

People and the press have referred to last year’s historic flood as a “thousand year” flood, as if an event of this size wouldn’t happen for another millennium.  Not so, say John Shelton of the U.S. Geological Survey and state climatologist Hope Mizzell.   Surprisingly, perhaps, each year the odds of a similar flood happening, though remote, are exactly the same.  Mizzell says the “thousand year” designation, however, does have a use, as a criterion for designing certain structures which must be built to withstand great and unlikely stresses. 

Counselling
lisafx/123RF Stock Photo

On average, about two people die by suicide each day in South Carolina, which is more than twice the state’s homicide rate.   With its “Out of the Darkness” walks statewide in October and November, the S.C.

Only days after the flood, Columbia's Gills Creek was approaching normal level, but its rage left its marks, both on the vegetation pictured here, and on its many victims.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Rain can be a painful reminder to some people of the great losses suffered a year ago in South Carolina’s historic floods.  According to USC School of Social Work Assistant Professor Patrice Penney, the anniversary of a traumatic event such as the floods can cause fear, anxiety and other symptoms in survivors. And psychologist Richard Kagan tells us that these renewed feelings at the anniversary are perfectly normal behavior, but  William Wells of the S.C. Dept.

Edwin McCain and his band on stage at the Charleston Music Hall.
SCETV

In cooperation with South Carolina ETV, the Charleston Music Hall has been the scene of a growing series of televised concerts known as Live at the Charleston Music Hall. Co-produced and hosted by Mark Bryan, guitarist of South Carolina’s Hootie and the Blowfish, the series has provided four shows for ETV and South Carolina Public Radio.

This drone is ready to fly.  Drones have many applications ,but the law hasn't caught up with some of them yet.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Drones are becoming more and more common, with possibly a million or more sold in 2015.  As recreation, they’ve been used as an extension of the traditional model airplane.  Newer uses in business, government and other enterprises have seen them used for traffic monitoring, inspecting farm crops and even collecting information from whale spray.  In this report, law professor Bryant Smith talks about legal concerns brought about by the use of drones, and oceanographer George Voulgaris and graduate student Doug Cahl discuss the drone’s role in various areas of research.

Aiken County cotton farmer Carl Brown overlooks one of his field.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

American consumers buy nearly 20 billion new items of clothing a year, many of them made of Southern cotton, but 98 percent made overseas.  A University of South Carolina professor wondered about the journey of cotton from South Carolina to China and back, and produced a documentary film about the people who grow the cotton and make the garments.  In this story, Prof. Laura Kissel talks about what she learned about the cotton-to-cloth-to-clothing process while making the film, and Aiken County farmer Carl Brown discusses the changes in cotton farming over the course of his career. 

  Fire ants are a perennial problem in the South, and in South Carolina, but science is working to control them.  Aiken County Clemson Extension Agent Vicki Bertagnalli and former Richland County Clemson Extension Agent Tim Davis both have tested ant baits before they were marketed, and say they can be 85-90 percent effective in controlling fire ants when used in the spring and fall. 

Harmony School teacher Jennifer Mancke admires the mural made by student in the flood-damaged preschool building that will require about $400,000 to repair.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

At Harmony School, a private school in the Columbia suburb of Forest Acres, children learn in a couple of portable classrooms that were pressed into service after last October’s historic flood.  The move was required because the flood rendered the school’s largest building, its preschool, unusable.  Just 2 to 4 inches from the overflow of adjacent Gills Creek was all it took to cause $400,000 worth of damage.  Director Debbie Holmes and teacher Jennifer Mancke talk about the event and the school’s efforts to raise money for its repair.  Even the school’s students are pitching in.    

Mopeds at Hawg Scooters, Rosewood Drive, Columbia. 2.	More South Carolinians are riding mopeds, and there are numerous reasons why.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

    With the opening of the fall semester at colleges across the state, a multitude of students can be seen negotiating the streets on mopeds. But they are by no means the only riders. The use of these low-power scooters is exploding across South Carolina, and the nation. Today we talk with two dealers who explain the phenomenon, as well as a rider who tells of the advantages he gets from his moped.

Gary Bolton of Strawberry Skys recording studio, Columbia, runs a session. Strawberry Skys is one of about 20 professional recording studios in South Carolina.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  As recording technology continues to improve, recording studios are finding themselves in an ironic struggle to survive against that very technology. The owners of two recording studios in the Columbia area say they often find themselves being undercut by technology that allows many artists to record at home and skip the recording studio altogether – or almost.

ETV's Smart Cat greets a young visitor at SC Public Radio Night at the Charleston Riverdogs baseball game.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

The Charleston Riverdogs minor league baseball team recently hosted South Carolina Public Radio at a game against the Columbia Fireflies. SC Public Radio’s Kate McKinney threw out the first ball, and staffers Alexandra Olgin and Tut Underwood also were in attendance, as was Osei Chandler, host of SC Public Radio’s Roots Musik Karamu, which he calls the longest-running reggae music program on radio.

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